RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Virginia is set to carry out its first execution under a new, more secretive protocol after Gov. Terry McAuliffe declined Thursday to intervene in the case of an inmate who killed two people during a 2006 escape.
William Morva, 35, is scheduled to receive a lethal injection Thursday evening for the killings of a hospital security guard and a sheriff’s deputy. McAuliffe said he won’t spare the life of the man, whose attorneys had said suffers from a profound mental illness that made him believe his life in jail was in danger when he went on the killing spree.
McAuliffe noted that experts who evaluated Morva for his trial concluded he didn’t suffer from a condition that would have “prevented him from committing these acts consciously and fully understanding their consequences.” Prison staff members who have monitored Morva for the past nine years have never reported any evidence of a severe mental illness, McAuliffe said.
“I have determined that Mr. Morva was given a fair trial and that the jury heard substantial evidence about his mental health as they prepared to sentence him in accordance with the law of our Commonwealth,” McAuliffe said. “I personally oppose the death penalty; however, I took an oath to uphold the laws of this Commonwealth regardless of my personal views of those laws, as long as they are being fairly and justly applied.”
Morva was awaiting trial on attempted robbery charges in 2005 when he was taken to a hospital to treat an injury. There, he attacked a sheriff’s deputy with a metal toilet paper holder, stole the deputy’s gun and fatally shot security guard Derrick McFarland before fleeing. A day later, Morva shot and killed Eric Sutphin, a sheriff’s deputy searching for Morva near Virginia Tech’s Blacksburg campus. Morva was later found in a ditch with the deputy’s gun nearby.
Recent changes to the state’s execution protocol mean Morva will remain shielded from the view of his attorney and media witnesses until after he has been restrained and IV lines that carry the lethal drugs have been inserted in his veins. Morva is to receive an injection of the sedative midazolam, followed by rocuronium bromide to halt breathing, and potassium chloride to stop the heart.
The new policy has drawn fire from defense attorneys and transparency advocates. They say the public should get to see as much of the procedure as possible to ensure inmates aren’t subject to unnecessary pain.
“This is being done in the public’s name and they have a right to know if the execution is proceeding in a way that violates the constitution,” said Dawn Davison, an attorney for Morva.
Execution witnesses used to watch inmates walk into the chamber and be strapped down. A curtain would then be closed so the public couldn’t see the placement of the IV and heart monitors. After the curtain was reopened, inmates would be asked whether they had any final words before chemicals begin flowing.
Now, the curtain will be closed when the witnesses enter the chamber and won’t be opened until the inmate’s IV lines are placed.
Changes to the execution protocol were made after attorneys raised questions in January about why it took so long to place the IV in the execution of killer Ricky Gray. Before Gray’s execution, the curtain remained closed for more than 30 minutes – about twice as long as usual.
Prison officials attributed the delay to difficulty finding a vein for the IV, but Gray’s attorneys said that wasn’t a “plausible explanation.”
Now, witnesses won’t know how long it takes to place the IV lines.
Spokeswoman Lisa Kinney, with the Virginia Department of Corrections, said in April that the changes were made to bring Virginia’s practice in line with other states.
“Waiting to open the curtain until after IV line placement reduces stress on the staff placing the lines, which in turn makes the process likely to go more quickly for the offender,” Kinney said.
How much of the execution process witnesses watch varies widely, depending on the state.
In several states – such as Texas and Missouri – the IVs are already inserted when witnesses first see the inmates. In Ohio, witnesses watch the insertion of the IV lines via closed circuit TV. In 2012, The Associated Press and other news organizations successfully sued Idaho to force the state to let witnesses watch the insertion of the IV lines.